In a thriving democratic set up like the one that India has, access to justice for all would seem like a cake walk. More so with the Indian Constitution ensuring that there are enough legal safeguards within the system, well established edifices of justice and a very proactive judiciary. Nevertheless the challenges of a huge backlog leading to delay which in turn retards the process of timely delivery of justice are some of the cracks in the system through which the weak and disadvantaged groups fall through when it comes to seeking justice.
In addition to that the unawareness about the rights and limited access to justice further way lays any attempts to ensure the dispensing of the same.
But not anymore as efforts are on to ensure that justice is made accessible to all particularly the marginalized groups living on the periphery of our social system. The unorganized labor sector of which women make up 95.9% as domestic workers, the tribals, children, the invisible people in the shape of refugees etc all will get a chance to claim their rights with the judiciary acting as their supportive ally.
This and much more was all discussed and planned at a Round Table Consultation organized at the Institute of Judicial Training and Research (IJTRI) at Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh on August 6, 2011.
Organized jointly by the Department of Justice, UP State Legal Services Authority and the UNDP, the impetus was mainly on ensuring Access to Justice for the Marginalized People. And with the top names in judiciary within the state and from the Ministry of Law and Justice Govt of India present at the consultation work is now afoot to make sure legal help reaches the doorstep of the needy.
Under the guidance of Hon’ble Mr Justice Amitava Lala, Executive Chairman Uttar Pradesh State Legal Services Authority, a number of suggestions were shared and agreed upon to strengthen the justice delivery system in UP and also popularize the existing legal aid services for the disadvantaged groups herein.
Speaking to CNS Hon’ble Mr Justice Amitava Lala, Senior Judge Allahabad High Court and Executive Chairman Uttar Pradesh State Legal Services Authority, stressed that it was imperative for the Judicial Officers to be aware of the condition of the marginalized groups before they rendered judgment on such cases.
He said, “The laws are existing to dispense justice but I feel until we are sensitized to the condition of the weak and the disadvantaged groups justice cannot be done. It is imperative that those that are marginalized be brought into the system so that they have full access to it. A few days back we have faced the problem regarding U.P.State Legal Services Authority where an order was passedpassed by judicial officer of Lucknow imposing a cost of Rs 5000 each in some cases which mounting to approx one lac. This step taken was raised at the level of the Supreme Court and everyone is upset not only myself. Therefore I feel that there should not be any chance of ignorance of law at the level of the Judges. When it comes to social justice I strongly believe that if you aware then you should be able to bring the justice to the poorer section of the people. Therefore my expectation is henceforth from all the judges and at least the District Judges to please inform all the judicial officers to render their services carefully because . This is important as LokAdalat concept is totally different, it is legal aid, not a usual course of business where we discharge our duty in different manner.”
Making a strong case for collaboration between the civil society organizations, state agencies and the judiciary, Hon’ble Mr Justice Amitava Lala emphasized that to speed up the process of justice in the state 23 permanent Lok Adalats had been set up. The results of such legal initiatives have been very encouraging, he maintained, which has led to the decision of setting up another 23 Lok Adalats to be functional in different districts of Uttar Pradesh.
Referring to lack of awareness of such initiatives among the people. He responded, “Legal awareness is definitely the key to success of such initiatives and we have launched mobile courts which are movable courts touring the districts in a van to spread awareness about the facilities to get access to justice.
These mobile vans have been so popular that soon we are planning to start two more to send into the district to educate people about their rights and the access to legal aid through the District Legal Services Authourity and State Legal Services Authority. This is as per the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987 the objective to provide access to justice to all is its most important aspect. ”
In support of the need of legal awareness among the marginalized groups, Hon’ble Mr SC Srivastava, Joint Secretary, Department of Justice Govt of India said, “The primary aim of this meeting, which is to get together all the key stakeholders on one platform to discuss important concerns in the area of access to justice in Uttar Pradesh. I believe that it is very important to explore synergies and convergence between the work of different Departments, Legal Services Authorities and the Project.
Similar efforts have been made at the national level with the Central Govt. Departments, National Commissions, UN agencies and civil society organizations. There is one convergence programme with the MoHRD, as a result of which the Sakshar Bharat programme will also have a component on adult legal literacy. Similar convergence is being explored with MoWCD and other central Govt. departments also. Through such State consultations we want to understand the needs and concerns of each of the Project States so that our activities in the States can be focused.”
Stressing on the fact that the Legal Services Authorities are playing a crucial role in helping the disempowered people to seek justice. He said that, “This is done by providing legal aid, through conducting legal awareness camps and holding lok adalats etc. A sensitive judiciary and as effective and efficient Legal Services Authority are the key to ensure that people have access to justice. Our Project aims to support the Legal Services Authorities and the Judicial Academies in achieving their objectives, and we are working closely with NALSA, the SLSAs and the State Judicial Academies as well.”
Bringing out the fact that the government is very keen to ensure that the access to justice for the marginalized Hon’ble Mr Sc Srivastava informed, “The deptt. of Justice, Govt. of India is implementing a Project on Access to Justice for Marginalized People with UNDP support in the 7 States of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. As we believe that access to justice is not limited to a mere access to courts but covers a broader ability of the people to enjoy the rights and entitlements guaranteed to them. Given this, the Project focuses on both the supply side (supporting Justice delivery institution to better serve the people) and the demand side (through legal empowerment of the people).”
Also present was Swati Mathur, Project Manager, UNDP who elaborated on the fact that over 50% of people were not aware of their rights. She said, “As per the project that the Ministry of Justice and the UNDP are planning legal empowerment in 7 states and 71 districts of UP will be done. This decision was taken when a study conducted by us revealed that over 50% people were not aware of their basic rights like share in parental property, RTI, information about arrest procedures, what are illegal practices against children etc. We are also looking to develop a synergy between govt departments like Department of Women and Child, Labor Department, Police Department of Social Welfare.”
Among the key other key speakers were Hon’ble Mr Justice Pradip Kant, Senior Judge Lucknow Bench and Chairman, High Court Legal Services Sub Committee, Anju Mujumdar, MARG, who shared her experiences on Community Justice Workers, Law Secretary Govt of UP and Mr U Sarathchandaran, Member Secretary National Legal Services Authority. (CNS)
(The author is a senior journalist writing for Citizen News Service (CNS) and also serves as the founding Director of Saaksham Foundation, Lucknow, India)